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Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees

In this report, we analyze earnings by field of study, sex, race/ethnicity, and program length. One of the most important factors that affects earnings is whether certificate holders work in the same occupational field they studied in.

We also take a close look at the demographic characteristics of certificate holders: sex, race/ethnicity, age, educational attainment, academic preparation/skill, family income, and parents’ education.

Last, we analyze the institutions that most commonly award certificates – such as community colleges and for-profit institutions – and the states where certificates are most prevalent and provide the highest earnings returns.

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Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees

  1. 1. Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose, and Andrew R. Hanson June 5, 2012
  2. 2. Overview •  Certificates are the fastest-growing postsecondary credential in the U.S., increasing from six percent of postsecondary awards in 1980 to 22 percent of awards today. •  Certificates have grown because they are affordable, usually take less than a year to complete, and often yield high returns in the job market. •  Certificates have become a stepping stone to college degrees.Twenty percent of certificate holders go on to get two-year degrees, and an additional 13 percent ultimately get a Bachelor’s degrees.
  3. 3. Certificates can outperform two-year and four-year degrees •  Male certificate holders earn more than 40 percent of men with Associate’s degrees and 24 percent of men with Bachelor’s degrees. •  Female certificate holders earn more than 34 percent of the women with Associate’s degrees and 24 percent of women with Bachelor’s degrees.
  4. 4. A certificate’s value is tied to being in the right field and working in that field •  On average, certificate holders who work in field earn 37 percent more than those who work out of field. •  The highest earners are those who work in field and in high-demand careers.
  5. 5. On average, certificate holders earn roughly the same as workers with some college, but no degree Source: Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).
  6. 6. Certificate-holders commonly work in allied health, office support, blue-collar, and cosmetology career fields •  Blue-collar, office support, and IT certificates yield the highest returns in the labor market.
  7. 7. Short-term certificates do not guarantee low pay, while medium-term certificates do not guarantee high or average pay Source: Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
  8. 8. Certificates provide more bang for the buck for men than women •  Men who earn certificates earn 27 percent more than high school-educated men. •  Women with a certificate, by comparison, only command a 16 percent earnings premium over women with a high school diploma.
  9. 9. Certificates provide higher economic payoff for those with less educational preparation •  Students who enroll in certificate programs and have lower standardized test scores receive similar wages as workers with some college but no degree.
  10. 10. Certificates are more common in the southern and western U.S. •  Growth of certificates is strongest in the South and West. Kentucky, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, and Florida produce the most certificates among states per population. •  In Oklahoma, 18 percent of workers have certificates as their highest level of education; in Nebraska, only 6 percent.
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